Monday, April 18, 2011

Who You Callin' Hip Hop?

Last night as I was looking through tracks for Mariana's album, I came upon this KRS-One interview from outside the VH1 Hip Hop Honors. Check out what he says about Kanye's Graduation album from around 1:36 to 2:15.

You know, this is such a fine line. On the one hand, Kris has been rhyming since before I was born. His world view is acutely viewed through the lens of hip hop culture, perhaps with more purity and vigilance than anyone else. In many ways, he has acquired the privilege to profess the values, beliefs, and thoughts of the entire community.

But in many ways, he hasn't.

Even with as influential KRS has been in solidifying hip hop's foundations, he cannot determine the definition of hip hop for an entire community. No one can. That responsibility is solely the duty of the collective and not a select few individuals, no matter their importance. So when Kris says, "We don't wear white shades around here," my first response is, "Who's included in 'we'?"

In 1998 Lauryn Hill won five Grammy Awards for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, including the top prize of Album of the Year. In her acceptance speech, Lauryn said, "This is crazy, because this is hip hop music." (I found it here!!!) And even though more than half her album was sung, she is absolutely right. That's the lens through which she views her world.

Six years later in the same category there were two hip hop albums nominated, Missy Elliot's Under Construction and OutKast's Speakerboxx/The Love Below. OutKast won the Grammy that year, with Dre's half of the project consisting of 95% singing, narration, and other types of musical explorations. In over two hours of music he only kicked two actual hip hop verses. But if I go to the record store to buy Speakerboxx/The Love Below, it's in the hip hop section. And that's right, because that's the lens through which they view their world.

So back to Kanye. If there could be any question of Kanye not having done a hip hop album it would most likely involve 808s and Heartbreaks, which was released in 2008. Kanye's almost exclusive use of the Roland TR-808 drum machine and Auto-Tune voice processing evolved into a minimalist and introspective journey of love, loneliness, and heartache. The sound was very electronica-inspired, Kanye sung on every track, and there was only one actual rap verse on the entire album (see "Amazing" feat Young Jeezy). Yet, even though this album is probably considered more of a crossover effort by most critics, at its core the heart of hip hop music still pulses. It won't be found in the "Pop" section of the Virgin Megastore. Kanye is hip hop through and through, and ultimately that's the lens through which he views his world. I think My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has served to solidify this.

So, I humbly disagree with KRS-One. His opinion of what's hip hop is not a deciding factor. It's only his opinion, albeit an experienced and educated one. Nevertheless, the forces of hip hop are much, much greater than that.

"Hip hop started out in the heart." Lauryn Hill

"I met a critic. I made her shit her drawers/
She said she thought hip hop was only guns and alcohol/
I said, 'Oh, hell naw! But yet it's that too.'" Dre

"What the hell do I know/
I'm just a Chi-town nigga wit' a Nas flow." Kanye West

I think if KRS would have used "I" instead of "we", I wouldn't have had anything to write about tonight. Thanks Kris!


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